People gathering at the Sidi Bouzid's Mohamed Bouazizi square, named after the fruitseller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution that ousted a dictator and ignited the Arab Spring on December 17, 2011
People gathering at the Sidi Bouzid's Mohamed Bouazizi square, named after the fruitseller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution that ousted a dictator and ignited the Arab Spring on December 17, 2011 © Fethi Belaid - AFP/File
People gathering at the Sidi Bouzid's Mohamed Bouazizi square, named after the fruitseller whose self-immolation sparked the revolution that ousted a dictator and ignited the Arab Spring on December 17, 2011
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Guillaume Klein, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Tunisia's Nobel Peace Prize bolsters fragile democracy

Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a breath of fresh air for a fragile emerging democracy facing serious security issues that threaten its economy.

The prize comes nearly five years after a desperate Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire, touching off a wave of unrest that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspiring uprisings across the region.

It was awarded jointly to quartet comprising the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

On Friday, the dialogue's main players and major capitals around the world paid tribute to the Arab Spring's only successful transition.

But they also stressed the major security and economic challenges still facing the North African nation, and President Beji Caid Essebsi responded with a call for unity.

"We cannot win the war we are fighting against terrorism unless we are all in it together," said the first post-uprising president, elected at the end of 2014.

"I think dialogue is the only possible weapon against terrorism," said Abdelsatar Ben Moussa, head of the Tunisian Human rights League, one of the quartet members.

Successive governments since 2011 -- including the one headed by Islamist party Ennahda -- have failed to curb a rise in extremism that has claimed the lives of dozens of tourists as well as members of the security forces.

This year, the country was shaken by an attack on foreign tourists visiting the National Bardo Museum in the capital in March and a beachside massacre near the city of Sousse in June.

- Security issues foremost -

The attacks, claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group (IS), claimed 22 dead and 38 dead respectively.

UN experts say thousands of Tunisians are fighting in the ranks of jihadist groups abroad.

In July, after the Sousse massacre, a state of emergency that had been in force from January 2011 until March 2014 was reintroduced.

The measure, granting special powers to the police and army, was criticised for curbing public freedoms and was later lifted on October 2.

Since March, some 20 "terrorist cells" have been dismantled, according to the interior ministry.

Tunisia is building a wall along its border with Libya, where IS has established itself in the chaos following the 2011 revolution that toppled Moamer Kadhafi.

Tunisia's allies, headed by the United States and France, have said they would step up security cooperation with the country.

Tunis has become Washington's major non-NATO ally, and Paris has announced a 20-million-euro programme to support its special forces and intelligence services.

But the danger remains.

Last month, the capital's main Habib Bourguiba Avenue was closed off for several days because of "threats".

On Thursday, Ridha Charfeddine, a lawmaker with main secular political party Nidaa Tounes, was the target of an assassination bid in Sousse, reviving memories of the killings in 2013 of leftist opposition members Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.

Their killings contributed to a stalling of the political process which was only overcome thanks to the National Dialogue.

- Theories about killings -

Different theories of those who were really behind the murders, claimed by jihadists linked to IS, reveal fractures in a society worn out by four years of economic woes.

The vital tourism sector has been badly affected by the unrest.

The number of visitors from Europe has been halved since January, and several international chains are to close their hotels over the winter season.

"A Nobel Peace Prize for Tunisia... What if it was a new beginning?" newspaper La Presse asked its readers online on Friday.

UTICA president Wided Bouchamaoui added of the prize: "This is great press for Tunisia!"

The government is hoping for average economic growth of 5 percent by 2020, but in 2015 it will not exceed 1 percent.

Strikes by teachers and transport workers have put a damper on the start of the new academic year, and two of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates -- the UGTT and UTICA -- are busy negotiating salary raises for the private sector.

Next week, the European Union and Tunisia are set to begin talks on a free trade agreement.

This is an "important sign" that "we are standing by them... in these fragile ," EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is due in Tunis on circumstancesTuesday, told AFP.

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